Cricket adapts to changing post-pandemic landscape

Cricket adapts to changing post-pandemic landscape
Emergence from the constraints imposed by the pandemic has led to an abundance of cricket in recent months, as tournaments, particularly ICC World Cup qualifiers, catch up on a backlog of fixtures. (File/AFP)
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Updated 02 June 2022

Cricket adapts to changing post-pandemic landscape

Cricket adapts to changing post-pandemic landscape
  • An easing of COVID-19 constraints has led to an abundance of play in recent months, as tournaments, particularly ICC World Cup qualifiers, catch up on a backlog of fixtures

Throughout cricket, when the person batting has scored 50 runs, it is normally the cue for applause, the strength of which will be according to the manner and style of the innings. In former days of league cricket in northern England, when the professional reached 50, it was customary for a club official to go around the spectators with a box asking for small change to be proffered in recognition of the feat.

This is my 50th column for the Arab News. In recognition of this, I organized my own collection — that of recurring topics which have emerged during the compilation of these columns. Too many emerged to be discussed in one column. Hence, I will focus on those which have material implications for the future of the game.

Acting as a backdrop to the whole year has been the impact of COVID-19. It is easy to forget that, at this stage of 2021, preparations were being made in England for international matches to be staged at biosecure venues in front of a restricted number of spectators. This method of “keeping the show on the road” worked for a time, but players began to feel the pressure, leading to concerns for their mental well-being. These are now being taken more seriously.

Another lasting impact of the pandemic on cricket has been the way it has been forced to adapt its products and revenue streams. The Indian Premier League could not be played in India in March/April 2020. It was later switched to the UAE, taking place between mid-September and mid-November, thus preserving its media and sponsorship income streams. In 2021, the IPL began in India but was suspended halfway through, resuming in the UAE in September.

Apart from ensuring that the tournaments were completed, the switches also provided the UAE with enhanced exposure within the cricketing world.

This was further highlighted to a broader audience when the delayed men’s 2020 T20 World Cup, due to be hosted by India, was played in the UAE, plus Oman, in October/November 2021. Additional stimulus has been provided by positive performances from both men’s and women’s teams in the UAE and Oman, plus Bahrain, in World Cup qualifying 20 and 50-over competitions. All of this points to a real advance in competitiveness within these countries, on and off the field.

Emergence from the constraints imposed by the pandemic has led to an abundance of cricket in recent months, as tournaments, particularly ICC World Cup qualifiers, catch up on a backlog of fixtures.

Into this mix, new tournaments have been added or existing ones expanded. In 2021, The Hundred was introduced in England and Wales, a format played nowhere else in the world, designed to appeal to a younger spectator.

In the same year, a T20 minor League Cricket Championship was introduced in the US, consisting of 27 teams from four regions. This is a developmental league for the US major Cricket League, planned for six cities in 2023.

In 2022, the IPL was expanded from eight to 10 franchises, necessitating an extension in its duration. Within the last year, the direction of travel for cricket, in terms of a focus on the T20 format, has been reaffirmed, especially in emerging countries.

What has also been reaffirmed is the dominance of Australian cricket in both men’s and women’s cricket. This is based on its men’s team winning the T20 World Cup in November in the UAE, its crushing of England in the 2020/21 Ashes. The women’s team won the 50-over ODI World Cup in April, and beat England in a combined Test and short format series in January/February. For the time being, India’s bid to dominate has been halted in recent months, partly because of a hiatus caused by changes of coach and captain.

One of the most significant developments in the last 12 months has been the increased support for women’s cricket. This has taken the form of increased funding, increased audiences, both in person and on media channels and increased remuneration, although gender parity has not yet been reached. Most women’s cricket is played to the shorter formats and cricket’s authorities seem reluctant to increase the opportunities for women’s Test cricket.

It is in India where women’s cricket has the greatest latent potential, but the Board of Control for Cricket in India has been slow to provide the platforms for its realization. Even recently, it expressed the view that, at this stage, there is not enough depth in the women’s game in India to justify further investment. This has been accompanied by vague talk about a women’s IPL.

Despite the current president of the MCC being a woman, as well as holding the post of managing director of women’s cricket for the England and Wales Cricket Board, cricket remains a game dominated by male administrators.

By way of example, only one of the 18 professional county cricket clubs in England and Wales currently has a woman in the post of either chair or CEO. Somewhat bucking the fashion, one county had a woman in both positions in 2019. Neither are still in post. The chair, herself a woman of color, stepped down in November 2021, apparently saddened by the high-profile allegations of racism within the domestic game.

My column of Nov. 24, 2021 covered those revelations. They rocked cricket, especially in Britain, where inquiries, sackings and recriminations ensued.

These have died down, but the problem cannot have dissipated overnight. Out of the key recurring topics of the last year — coping with the impact of the pandemic, recognition of mental health issues, continuing growth of T20 competitions, surge in support for women’s cricket, limelight for the UAE and Oman, and Australia’s resurgence — racism is the most concerning one.

Work is underway within the game to counter its impact and bring about behavioral change. However, progress is not always obvious and needs monitoring. Time is required to educate and develop the willingness to change among those who remain in doubt.


Elon Musk says he is buying Manchester United

Elon Musk says he is buying Manchester United
Updated 17 August 2022

Elon Musk says he is buying Manchester United

Elon Musk says he is buying Manchester United

Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said on Tuesday he was buying football club Manchester United Plc.
“I’m buying Manchester United ur welcome,” Musk said in a tweet.
Musk has a history of making irreverent tweets, and it was not immediately clear whether he planned to pursue a deal.
Manchester United, controlled by the American Glazer family, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The football club had a market capitalization of $2.08 billion, as of Tuesday’s close.
Manchester United fans have in recent years protested against the Glazers, who bought the club for 790 million pounds ($955.51 million) in 2005, due to the team’s struggles on the pitch.
The anti-Glazer movement gained momentum last year after United were involved in a failed attempt to form a breakaway European Super League.


Jacobs storms to Euro 100m crown as Ingebrigtsen and Perkovic shine

Jacobs storms to Euro 100m crown as Ingebrigtsen and Perkovic shine
Updated 17 August 2022

Jacobs storms to Euro 100m crown as Ingebrigtsen and Perkovic shine

Jacobs storms to Euro 100m crown as Ingebrigtsen and Perkovic shine
  • In a heady night of track and field at a packed Olympic Stadium, the raucous crowd went wild as unheralded home favorite Gina Lueckenkemper pulled off a shock by winning the women’s blue riband sprint
  • There was also drama in the decathlon as Germany’s Niklas Kaul snatched gold from Swiss rival Simon Ehammer on the back of a monstrous 76.05m in the javelin and a personal best of 4:10.04 in the strength-sapping final 1500m

MUNICH: Olympic champion Marcell Jacobs put an injury-ravaged season behind him to storm to gold in the 100m gold in the European Athletics Championships in Munich on Tuesday.

Jacobs, who was world indoor 60m champion in Belgrade in March, but withdrew before the semifinals of the 100m at last month’s world championships in Oregon, clocked a championship record-equalling time of 9.95 seconds.

Defending champion Zharnel Hughes claimed silver in 9.99sec with another Briton, Jeremiah Azu, taking bronze in 10.13.

“This was a difficult season with problems, with injury,” said the 27-year-old Italian, who has been beset by leg injuries and who competed with a heavily-strapped left calf in Munich.

“My leg is not good and I am not happy about how the race went technically, there were some problems.

“But I am over the moon with the gold medal. After Olympic gold, I’ve now got the European gold. I’ve got to get the world championship gold now.”

In a heady night of track and field at a packed Olympic Stadium, the raucous crowd went wild as unheralded home favorite Gina Lueckenkemper pulled off a shock by winning the women’s blue riband sprint.

The 25-year-old, who won 100m silver in the last European champs in Berlin in 2018 and 200m bronze in 2016, threw herself at the line to clock 10.99sec for a photo-finish victory over Switzerland’s Mujinga Kambundji.

Britain’s Daryll Neita took bronze with 11.00sec, while her teammate, defending champion Dina Asher-Smith, pulled up with injury halfway through the race and finished last.

A trio of proven performers had earlier showed off their prowess in perfect, balmy conditions, retaining their titles in no little style. 

Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen celebrates winning the men’s 5000m final during the European Athletics Championships at the Olympic Stadium in Munich. (AFP)

First up was Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who dominated the 5,000m to keep a repeat double bid on track.

The 21-year-old, crowned world champion over the distance at last month’s worlds in Eugene, timed 13min 21.13sec.

“I believe in myself and I believe in the things I have done before. It was amazing here today, it was a great race to be a part of,” said Ingebrigtsen.

“It feels great to be back and win, it is special.”

Greece’s defending long jump champion Miltiadis Tentoglou, the reigning Olympic and world indoor champion who won world silver in Eugene, then set a championship record to retain his Euro title.

The Greek soared out to 8.52m on his fourth attempt, bettering the previous best of 8.47m set by Germany’s Christian Reif in Barcelona in 2010. 

Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic during the women’s discus throw final at the European Athletics Championships. (AFP)

Then came the turn of the doyenne of the women’s discus, Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic.

The 32-year-old Croat left it late, going out to a winning 67.95 meters on her fifth attempt for gold.

It was a record sixth successive European title, the two-time Olympic and world champion having first won the continental competition in Barcelona in 2010.

“I just won my sixth European title here at this beautiful stadium in front of this amazing crowds, so I am so happy and proud tonight,” said Perkovic.

“I knew I was ready to do it and I think the fight was nice.”

There was also drama in the decathlon as Germany’s Niklas Kaul snatched gold from Swiss rival Simon Ehammer on the back of a monstrous 76.05m in the javelin and a personal best of 4:10.04 in the strength-sapping final 1500m.

After also registering 11.16sec in the 100m, 7.10m in the long jump, 14.90m in the shot put, 2.02m in the high jump, 47.87sec in the 400m, 14.45sec in the 110m hurdles and 41.80m in the discus, Kaul was left with 8,545 points.

Ehammer had to be happy with silver, just 77pts behind, while Estonia’s Janek Oiglane claimed bronze (8,346).


Kyrgios overcomes tricky Davidovich Fokina in Cincinnati opener

Kyrgios overcomes tricky Davidovich Fokina in Cincinnati opener
Updated 17 August 2022

Kyrgios overcomes tricky Davidovich Fokina in Cincinnati opener

Kyrgios overcomes tricky Davidovich Fokina in Cincinnati opener
  • The Australian marched through with 29 winners — including 10 aces — and three breaks of the Spaniard’s serve to reach the second round

CINCINNATI: Nick Kyrgios began the last major US Open tune-up with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina on Tuesday at the ATP/WTA Cincinnati Masters.
The Australian marched through with 29 winners — including 10 aces — and three breaks of the Spaniard’s serve to reach the second round.
The 28th-ranked Kyrgios has won all 11 of his first-round matches this season and won his 22nd match since returning to the ATP in June after skipping the clay season.
He now faces good friend Taylor Fritz after the American crushed Sebastian Baez 6-1, 6-1.
“Physically, I didn’t feel the best, but you have to keep pushing, keep trying,” Kyrgios said.
“Alejandro’s a hell of a player, he’s got a lot of shots at his disposal. I had to serve well and dictate,” the Montreal quarter-finalist aded.
“It was tricky conditions out there, the courts are a lot more lively than Montreal, it was harder to control the ball.”
Kyrgios took 50 minutes to secure the first set, wrapping it up after a break in the penultimate game with back-to-back serve winners.
He went up an early break to start the second set but lost it three games later as the dissatisfied Australian kept up a frustrated gripe session with his three-strong support box as Davidovich Fokina made it 2-2.
Kyrgios struck straight back with a love break to regain control 3-2 and ran out the winner in 91 minutes on his second match point.
It marked a happy return to Cincinnati for Kyrgios, who was fined a record $113,000 during a spectacular meltdown at the tournament in 2019 when he smashed two racquets in the locker room in a loss to Karen Khachanov.
Kyrgios acknowledged his turbulent history at the tournament after Tuesday’s win.
“I’ve played some amazing tennis here and had some crazy outbursts,” he said.
“It’s a flip of the coin as to which Kyrgios shows up here.
“Hopefully this time around it’s just a calm, collected — I just want to have a good week before I continue on the good habits and give myself all the best for preparation for the US Open.
“I have been an emotional kind of tennis player my entire career. Ever since I picked up a racquet, my mum used to watch me throw tantrums and cry on the court and be emotional when I lost.
“That’s just me showing that I do care about the result — I think that’s important.


Juventus newcomer Di Maria sidelined by thigh injury

Juventus newcomer Di Maria sidelined by thigh injury
Updated 16 August 2022

Juventus newcomer Di Maria sidelined by thigh injury

Juventus newcomer Di Maria sidelined by thigh injury
  • Di Maria scored the opening goal in Monday's 3-0 win over Sassuolo in his first game for his new club
  • Juventus said scans showed Di Maria had suffered a "low-grade lesion" to his left thigh

ROME: Argentina winger Angel Di Maria faces a spell on the sidelines after picking up a thigh injury on his Juventus debut, the Serie A club said on Tuesday.
Di Maria scored the opening goal in Monday’s 3-0 win over Sassuolo in his first game for his new club after his move from Paris Saint-Germain.
The 34-year-old also set up Dusan Vlahovic for the second of his two goals but was substituted midway through the second half.
Juventus said scans showed Di Maria had suffered a “low-grade lesion” to his left thigh, adding that the injury would be re-evaluated in 10 days.
He will miss at least the next two league games against Sampdoria and Roma.
Juventus were already without Paul Pogba, who hurt his knee on a pre-season trip to the US after rejoining the Turin club following six years with Manchester United.
The France midfielder is undergoing a course of “conservative therapy” and could return in mid-September.


Drew McIntyre takes on Roman Reigns as WWE returns to the UK after 30 years

Drew McIntyre takes on Roman Reigns as WWE returns to the UK after 30 years
Updated 16 August 2022

Drew McIntyre takes on Roman Reigns as WWE returns to the UK after 30 years

Drew McIntyre takes on Roman Reigns as WWE returns to the UK after 30 years
  • Clash at the Castle set for Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Sept. 3

Drew McIntyre is set for a UK homecoming and the nation’s first major WWE show in more than 30 years when Clash at the Castle takes place at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Sept. 3.

With his ambition to make history in Wales, McIntyre will face off in the evening’s headline match against the current Undisputed WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns.

The Scottish Warrior this summer emerged victorious against his former ally, Sheamus, to earn his spot in the ultimate title showdown and stand face-to-face with Reigns, who is The Head of the Table.

Reigns’ unprecedented reign at the top hasn’t been without controversy, as he held back the ferocious attacks of Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam 2022 to survive as the Last Man Standing and firmly maintain his position at the top of the Raw and SmackDown rosters.

The clash in Cardiff represents a new challenge for the champion, as McIntyre will be backed in numbers by a home crowd and all eyes will be on whether Reigns’ 700-day streak will continue.